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AM Community Calendar/photo by masochismtango on Flickr

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News and information, interviews, weather, upcoming events, music, school news, and many special features. North Shore Morning includes our popular trivia question - Pop Quiz! The North Shore Morning program is the place to connect with the people, culture and events of our region!

 


What's On:
Sawbill Lake, on a windy day, looking deceptively like open water, but it is actually ice - flooded by rain.

West End News: December 1

Congratulations to Craig Horak who has stepped up to fill the Tofte Township Supervisor position recently vacated by Paul James. Craig is a natural for the job. He was born and raised in Tofte at his parents' resort, Cobblestone Cabins. Craig and his wife Ellen have chosen to make Tofte their home and plan to raise their daughter there.

I'm glad to see younger people taking leadership roles in the West End. A regular infusion of new thinking in the community, combined with the wisdom of the elders, is a healthy thing. Speaking of elders, Craig's father, Jan Horak, served as the Tofte Township Treasurer shortly after the township was formed, back in the old, old days, so township government seems to run in the family.

As I've said before, township government is sometimes fun - and sometimes not so fun - and almost always a bit tedious. It is, however, the level of government that most directly impacts our lives and is vitally important, so I applaud those who serve.

If you're looking for fun with very little tedium, mark your calendar for the annual meeting of the Superior Timberwolves Sportsman's Club on Tuesday, December 6. Although this is the annual business meeting for the West End snowmobile club, it is more importantly a social hour, starting at 5:00, followed by potluck dinner from 6 to 7:00. A short business meeting will follow, but it beats washing the dishes any day. It all happens at the Tofte Town Hall.

Tofte native, Danielle Hansen, will be singing in the St. Olaf Christmas Festival this year. You may think, "what's the big deal about someone singing in their college Christmas program?" Well, the St. Olaf Christmas Festival is not your typical college musical event. It is truly a world class concert and you have to be a singer of the absolute highest quality to be allowed to participate. The training and rehearsal are a serious commitment and not easy. This is a very big deal for Danielle and for her parents, Paul Hansen and Diane Blanchette, who I'm sure are proud of their talented daughter. Danielle, it should be pointed out, is a 2015 graduate of Cook County High School.

The roads over the hill were virtually undriveable for a few days last week. I hasten to say that the bad roads were a victim of circumstances, not a lack of care by the county highway department. When the snow arrived last week the road surfaces were not yet frozen. This requires the plow drivers to keep their blades a few inches about the gravel to keep from plowing a thick layer of saturated gravel into the ditches. The ensuing rain turned the snow on the roads into dense slush - the kind that grabs control of the car from the driver and pulls it inexorably toward the ditch - even at slow speeds. Actually, normal speeds weren't even an option with the slush literally slowing even four wheel drive vehicles to a crawl. Now that is been driven on for a few days it is much better.

Many of the lakes in the back country were also weirdly affected by the rain. The lakes had already frozen over and received a few inches of snow. The rain melted the snow, but not the ice, leaving an inch or two of standing water on top of the ice from shore to shore. The ice is black, so it was an optical illusion with the lake looking like it would on a dead calm day even when the wind was blowing briskly. Overall, it was an eerie and unsettling effect. If only we would have received a quick cold snap at that moment - the ice skating would have been spectacular. Fingers crossed for some good skating eventually, but you never really know what mother nature has in store for us here in the beautiful West End.

For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

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Sawtooth Mountain Elementary School

School News from Sawtooth Mountain Elementary: November 28

Cy, Selena, and Neveah report the latest school news.

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Northern Sky: November 26 - December 9

Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota, where she authors the Minnesota Starwatch column.

The story of the Pleiades; a young crescent moon in the evening sky; the triangle of Venus, Mars and Fomalhaut.

(photo by NASA/Hubble via Wikimedia Commons)


 

North Woods Naturalist: The language of bark, part 1

WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the Language of Bark. This is part one of a two-part North Woods Naturalist feature. 

(Photo by Evelyn Berg on Flickr)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 25

The yearly spending madness in America is officially underway with the “black Friday” weekend. In the midst of this coming mayhem, I hope your Thanksgiving Holiday has been stuffed with a joyous time of family, friends and goodies from the bounty of all who made it possible. Further, if you were able to share our abundance with someone less fortunate, kudos for your decency and generosity, you can’t be thanked enough!

“There’s no business like snow business.” Finally, after much wringing of hands about when and if it would ever come to these parts, production and distribution got under way. Last weekend's snow and return to more normal temps has the landscape in dazzling white, with the forest flocked to the hilt.

We’re even into ice-making on some of the smaller lakes with the mercury hitting the nothing mark in places up at this end of the Trail (it was zero at Wildersmith and slightly below at Seagull Lake).

This neighborhood did not receive what prognosticators envisioned, but neither was it a bust. Our first measurable dose piled up at seven inches, and with the accompaniment of howling winds during the storm, it looked like much more in many locales. Guess some might consider ourselves lucky compared to the upwards of two feet that fell in several North Country counties to the west. However, for a few of us “zanies,” there can never be too much.

I find interesting the excitement created when forecasters begin to sensationalize the coming of a first winter storm. It would seem everyone’s trigger is tripped, whether” the coming” is with scorn or elation. Beginning with the first reveal of a cold season storm advisory, suspense begins to build. Questions, of when will the furies of such arrive; how much will it pile up; and how bad will it get, resound throughout the kingdom.

Evolvement of the situation intensifies if the “watch” turns into a “warning.” Folks edge up on their seats and ears perk to the media, many in disgust, with others in hope of a doozy. The storm is getting close, it seems to be real; will I be able to get home, or get out; is my vehicle ready; do I have enough food; will the power and communications be interrupted; will the snow blower start; where’s my shovel; will school be dismissed early or called off? Oh so many concerns echo through our minds.

Arrival is confirmed as trifle flurries at first, energy then escalates to a full blown visit from the “Polar Express.” Curiosity whets our senses, noses to the glass watching a calm vertical descent of the heavenly flakes, while ears detect howling air suggesting a horizontal delivery. Whatever the means of conveyance, the magical sensation of snow whitening the world around us is capturing.

Seldom lasting for more than a few hours or a day or two, the work of “old man winter” idles down to an end. The body of this “old guy's” toiling lies in varying states of crystal serenity. With our mini-universe blanketed in white, the results, are sometimes not as bad as predicted and others far worse than anticipated. Regardless of one’s opinion on the end product, it’s difficult to argue the peaceful splendor of new fallen snow.

In immediate days following the cold atmospheric drama, our wilderness territory comes alive with intriguing, mysterious signs of life we have not seen for months. Tracks of “wild kingdom” critters indent the bleached carpet in infinite shapes, sizes and directions. For yours truly and other outdoors people, the wonder and curiosity associated with critters leaving a trace is beyond the ordinary “what,” “why” and “when” of human understanding. Tracks, tracks everywhere make living in the wilderness setting a deeply profound encounter into the “wild”unknown.

Oddly enough, enthusiasm for the first winter season happening does not wane. For many folks, it seems subsequent wintry episodes conjure up the same anticipatory energies as the initial act. So for us winter enthusiasts, bring it on, the joy of the times are at hand. Happy snow activities to all!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great and having them with snow cover is even more delightful!

(Photo by Tony Hisgett on Flickr)

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Henry Wehseler, 1921-2016

West End News: November 24

I was saddened to hear, somewhat belatedly, that Henry Wehseler, long-time Tofte resident and the former owner of the North Shore Market in Tofte, had passed away more than a month ago.

Henry was born in St. Martin, Minnesota, in 1921, the son of German immigrant parents. He spoke German at home as a child and retained a soft German accent his whole life.

Henry served in the Civilian Conservation Corps and then enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He and Florence, his wife of nearly 72 years, moved to Sawbill Landing after the war. Sawbill Landing was a temporary town that existed to house the loggers who worked the giant Tomahawk timber sale in the country east of Isabella.

Henry told me that he brought one of the very first chainsaws with him when he came to start logging. In those days, loggers were paid by piece-work and he figured the chainsaw would give him an advantage over the other loggers who were still using 40" bow saws to cut pulp. The early chainsaws were huge, heavy and unreliable. Henry, who was always firm in his opinions, stuck with the chainsaw for a few weeks before reluctantly setting it aside in favor of the bow saw, which was still the fastest tool for the job.

The timber company would set up a skid road through the sale, just passable enough for a tractor to drag a dray of logs, and then would assign each logger a 40 acre plot on one side of the trail. Each logger was responsible for felling the trees, cutting them to 100 inch lengths and piling them on the side of the skid road for loading. When I asked Henry how he moved the logs from the woods to the skid road, I was astonished to hear him say that he did it by hand. He would fell the tree, always in the direction of the road to save distance, buck it to length and then end-for-end each log to the landing. It would be no exaggeration to say that this was among the most physically demanding jobs in the history of the world. Also, being that it was piece-work, Henry worked incredibly long days. I'll never forget that when I incredulously asked Henry how he withstood this unimaginable hard labor, he shrugged and said with simple understatement, "oh, you toughen up after a few weeks."

When the Tomahawk timber sale wound down in the mid-1960s, Henry, Florence and their three boys moved to Tofte. While Henry continued to log and work construction, Florence went to work for Albin and Edith Nelson at the Long Lake Lumber Company store in Tofte. The store mostly provided groceries for the many transient lumber camps that were deep in the woods during that era. The foreman would drop off a grocery list from each lumberjack and then swing by to pick them up the next day. Florence would pack the groceries in a cardboard box for each lumberjack, so the groceries would stay safe during the rough ride back to camp in the foreman's pickup.

Around the time it became more of grocery store for the general public, Henry and Florence bought the store and operated it for more than 30 years. They continued to supply the camps and also served as a informal social service agency for the lumberjacks. For the whole time that he owned the store, Henry continued to pack groceries in cardboard boxes, much to the puzzlement of his tourist customers. At Sawbill, for many years, we saved all our cardboard boxes and brought them to Henry. We always called them "Henry boxes."

Henry didn't believe in borrowing money, so he expanded the store a few times over the years as he was able to save the money. After the store was fully built out, Henry and Florence saved up and built a beautiful home for themselves on a large piece of property across the Sawbill Trail from the store.

The North Shore Market, which is now the Tofte General Store, was the social hub of the West End while the Wehselers owned it. They worked there all day, every day, except for Sunday afternoons. Henry knew everyone in the community, as long as they shopped at the store. It was his work life, social life and personal life, all rolled into one. I can only remember Henry taking one vacation in all the years that he ran the store. It was to attend a reunion of his navel outfit and he was gone for two days. He did love to pick blueberries and could always be found in the berry patch during the few Sunday afternoons that came around during berry season.

Henry and Florence allowed people to charge groceries at the store and pay one bill at the end of the month. I know for a fact that if a family was having a particularly hard time, especially if they had children, their grocery charge would be forgiven. Henry and Florence treated everyone the same and assumed you were a good person until you proved them wrong.

Henry had a particular friendship with Cook County's famous Sheriff, John Lyght. John liked to tease Henry about breaking the law because he knew that Henry would rather die than break a law.

Henry also had a warm friendship with Senator Paul Wellstone, who frequently vacationed in Tofte. When he was in town, Senator Wellstone would walk to the store each morning to buy the daily newspapers. He and Henry would discuss the issues of the day while the Senator drank a few cups of coffee and skimmed the news. Henry was honest and forthright in his opinions with everyone, including the Senator, and was not shy if he disagreed. Senator Wellstone told me numerous times that he held Henry in very high regard and valued his friendship, precisely because he was so honest and unfazed with the Senator's high office.

Henry and Florence eventually sold the store and started splitting their time between Tofte and Florida. A few years ago, they sold their house and moved to Little Falls to be near Florence's relatives. Henry died on October 16th at the age of 95. He is survived by his wife, Florence, sons Richard, Gary and Bill, along with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He played a big role in the lives of so many people in the West End and was instrumental in making it the lovely community that is is today. Rest in peace, my friend.

For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

 

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Sawtooth Mountain Elementary School students share why they are thankful

The Sawtooth Mountain Elementary School students have an annual Thanksgiving tradition of sharing why they are thankful. In this feature, third graders in Amanda Hand, Lorelei Livingston and Julie Viren's classrooms recite their special holiday poems.

 
The final holiday greeting is from the combined second and third grade classes.

(Photo by J. Neal Goggins on Flickr)

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Birch Grove Community School

School News from Birch Grove Community School: November 23

Arlo, Kalina, and Sophia report the latest school news.

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Sawtooth Mountain Elementary School

School News from Sawtooth Mountain Elementary: November 22

General, Sofi, and Ruby report the latest school news.

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 18

Gunflint territory has chalked up week three of November, and little has changed with regard to winter being a non-factor. Conditions along the Trail have been splendid, if one favors warm weather. We did have a couple mornings where the mercury slipped below the freezing mark at Wildersmith, but sunshine later on those days refreshed memory of a September song.

The damp gray days of last month have succumbed to a mini-drought with no consequential rain in this neighborhood for going on three weeks. This has given way to tinder dry forest under growth and dusty back country roads.

Our mid-month, “freezing over” “Super moon” had us under its luminous spell earlier in the week. The moonrise was awesome and the ensuing spotlight hanging over the forest was nothing short of spectacular. Sadly, it should have shone on the “breast of new fallen snow," but such was not the case. It did, however, “give a luster of mid-day” to the warm forest floor below.
 
As our Thanksgiving celebration is but days away, folks out this way will not only be thankful for many bountiful blessings, but would also be grateful to get this winter thing going. Purveyors of cross country ski operations would surely welcome a good dose of “old Man Winter” ASAP.   

In the meantime, I’ve noticed our “vernal like” atmosphere has one neighborhood species in a spunky, romantic mood. I don’t know if the autumn months are a normal time for amorous attractions in the red squirrel genus, but something spurned a couple of the red rodent critters into an apparent courtship right out on our deck rail.  

If one lives in the woods long enough, it is likely you’ll see most anything happen in the “wild neighborhood.” So observing this mating ritual might have been expected, although it was certainly a surprise.  

Those avian in gray tuxedos have been marvelous entertainment over the past few days. Talk about being habituated, this “whisky Jack” couple has turned the tables. Whereas we humans are often guilty of perpetuating such with certain members of the animal kingdom, this dapper duo is doing a marvelous job of training us in the Smith house.    

An example is shared as yours truly, sat near a deck side window last Sunday. Without warning, one of these Canadian Jays flew right up to the glass, perched on the sill and pecked anxiously to get my attention. Startled at first, it didn’t take me long to jump up, grab my bag of bread cubes and hurry out the door to serve the winged wonder. Talk about being conditioned, yes we are.   

While out serving the handsome critters a day earlier, I watched some winged activity that featured jaybirds of both gray and blue varieties. On this occasion, I’d been serving the grays while one of the blue varieties sat nearby in a tree watching enviously. 
Afraid of my presence (they are only brave when they can bully smaller birds), it would not join the dining experience. 

During this scenario, the grays’land, take a beak full of nutritional fare and fly off to nearby trees where their treasures are stuffed in bark crevasses, thus stored for consumption at a later date. I could see the blue was eyeing this process, apparently planning a felonious raid on the gray cousins’ cache.  
                                                    
It wasn’t long before one of the grays flew off with a mouth full, and the blue took a following flight pattern. A short stroll around the deck, found the gray nearby, stashing its morsel while the blue landed on a nearby branch. Without concern, the gray took off in search of a second helping, leaving its rewards unattended. 
                                                                
Moments after this gray departure, the blue made its move. The blue bird invaded the “staff of life” treasure chest, helping itself to the hidden loot. Soon to fly away, Mr. Blue undoubtedly went off to plan its next larcenous escapade.  

Summing up observation of such daily happenings in the wild, securing a regular meal is not only highly competitive, but involves cunning and patience. Survival goes not only to the fittest, but also to the shrewdest.

In other animal snippets, the bears are still on the prowl, and the eight member Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack was observed up on the ridge, above this Canadian border lake by a deer hunter in recent days.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great and forest adventures are fabled!  Have a safe and glorious Thanksgiving!

(photo by Dick Daniels via Wikimedia Commons)

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